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UK Cider ingredients

Why we need compulsory ingredient labelling for cider in the UK

(And why certain brands would need a much bigger label)

 

I’m firmly in the ever increasing camp of cider makers who believe we need to re-visit the UKs legal definition of cider before the industry ends up back were it was 20 years ago (appealing predominantly to underage drinkers and alcohol dependents).

The document in question is known as Notice 162 and it defines for duty purposes what is and what isn’t cider in this country. As it stands this definition allows for a cider made from just 35% reconstituted apple juice concentrate (discussed at length here) to sit quite comfortably beside a cider made from 100% fresh pressed apple juice, both sold under the generic term of cider.

All ciders are not made equal but if both of these hypothetical products sat side by side how would a cider drinker be able to tell the difference on a supermarket shelf? They may both be in very similiar packaging, they may even both be described as Craft or Premium Cider on the label along with various claims to authenticity and tradition. The answer would surely have to be, with great difficulty! After all there is absolutely no obligation to display ingredients on a cider produced for the UK market. If there was the two products could be told apart with relative ease.

  • Cider A Ingredients: Water, Apple Juice (from concentrate).
  • Cider B Ingredients: Apple Juice (not from concentrate)

Now, I’ve assumed both these products are simple, apple based ciders with absolutely the bare minimum of ingredients. More typically on Cider A you might see;

  • Cider A Ingredients. Water, Apple Juice (from concentrate), Glucose, Malic Acid (E296), Caramel (E150d), Carbon Dioxide, Sulphite (E220), Potassium Sorbate (E202).

But do people really look at ingredients when buying a bottle of cider? I Mean most people have a genuine and perfectly legitimate belief that cider is made from apples. They would almost certainly be surprised to learn that cider (as defined by Notice 162 in the UK) can contain anything up 41 permitted ingredients, a list which begins with the mysteriously titled Acesulfame K and ends with the equally arcane Sunset Yellow…

Take a look at Section 26 of Notice 162 if you fancy reading the whole list in it’s original format or I’ve put together a table listing all permitted cider ingredients, I’ve also included a column for their uses since many of them aren’t that obvious from the title alone.

INGREDIENT USE
Acesulfame-K (E950) Artificial sweetener
Acetic acid Acid
Apple aromas (natural only) Apple Aroma
Apple juice (fresh or concentrate) Apple Juice
Apple wine Apple wine
Ascorbic acid and its salts (E300 – E302) Acid
Aspartame (E951) Artificial sweetener
Carbon dioxide Gas
Cider – out of condition Cider – out of condition
Cider vinegar Vinegar
Citric acid and its salts (E330 – E333) Acid
De-alcoholised concentrated cider (Cidrasse) Distillation by product
Dimethyl dicarbonate (Velcorin) (E242) Preservative
Lactic acid and its salts (E270, E325, E326) Acid
Malic acids and its salts (E296, E350a, E351b, E352a) Acid
Neo-hesperidine Artificial sweetener
Nitrogen Gas
Pear aromas (natural only) Pear Aroma
Pear juice (fresh or concentrate) Pear Juice
Pear wine Pear wine
Perry – out of condition Perry – out of condition
Perry vinegar Vinegar
Saccharin (and Na, K, and Ca salts) (E954) Artificial sweetener
Sorbic acid and its salts (E200, E202, E203) * Preservative
Sucralose (E955) Artificial sweetener
Sugars and sugar syrups for example, High fructose corn syrup/high fructose syrup, Fructose Hydrolysed starch/hydrolysed starch syrup, Glucose, Liquid sugars, Sucrose, Sugar Sugar (in various forms)
Sulphur dioxide and its salts (E220 – E224, E226 – E228) Preservative
Salt (Sodium chloride) Salt
Tartaric acid and its salts (E334 – E336) Acid
Water Water
Acid brilliant green BS (E142) Green Colouring
Anthocyanin (E163) Red / Purple Colouring
Caramel (E150a, E150b, E150c, E150d) Brown Colouring
Carmoisine (E122) Red Colouring
Cochineal (E120) Red Colouring
Indigotine (E132) Purple Colouring
Mixed Carotenes (E160a, E160b, E160c, E160d, E160e) Orange Colouring
Ponceau 4R (E124) Red Colouring
Quinoline yellow (E104) Yellow Colouring
Sunset yellow (E110) Yellow Colouring
Tartrazine (E102) Yellow Colouring

 

So, as a starting point I think most people would agree that compulsory full ingredient labelling is a must. Selling a product made from anything up to 41 different ingredients and not letting the consumer know what they are is quite simply unfair. In fact of all these ingredients there is only a legal requirement to display Sulphite as an allergen or if there is any artificial sweetener present.

Wine is defined in the EU legislation as a “product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether or not crushed, or of grape must.

We’re some of way off yet but wouldn’t it be nice if cider made in the UK was ALWAYS a “product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh apples, whether or not crushed, or of apple juice”.

If nothing else the list of ingredients wouldn’t take up a sheet of A5 paper…

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How low can you go? Juice limbo with mainstream UK ciders

Britain makes a very good claim at being the home of cider. The history is there (we’ve been making cider on these islands for at least as long as anyone else has on the mainland), the volume is there (we drink more cider per person than any other country in the world!) but there’s something missing and it’s of crucial importance, Quality.

About 90% of the cider sold in the UK is made from just 35% apple juice**. That should be quite surprising to most cider drinkers but due to our current UK Customs & Excise definition of cider (a surprisingly long document known as Notice 162) it all just gets sold as cider, so long as it meets that minimum juice requirement.

This issue with our legislation has been written about and discussed at length by various champions of quality cider. Check out these blog posts by Crafty Nectar and James Beeson for starters.

This post however is about how we ended up with the lowest legal juice content for cider in the world, set at just a measly 35%.

This is going to get quite technical so please bear with me.

As ever with business we start with money. Concentrated apple juice (from here on I’ll just refer to this as concentrate) costs more than fresh apple juice. It costs money to convert juice to concentrate and so it necessarily costs more. But, concentrate has three big advantages for the industrial cider maker; 1) It can be stored indefinitely, 2) It can be shipped from other countries and 3) it can be over diluted with water to create more juice than it started out as. Points 1 and 2 are self explanatory but point 3 is the most relevant for this post.

One litre of juice typically weighs 1050 grams (g), one litre of concentrate typically weighs 1350g, during the concentration process, water is removed from the juice leaving behind the sugar and other non watery stuff (hence it weighs more). But as you remove the water obviously the over all volume is reduced. So for every seven litres of juice you get just one litre of concentrate. Theoretically then, if I add six litres of water to my one litre of concentrate I’d be back where I started with seven litres of juice (reconstituted) each weighing 1050g. But, here’s the loophole, juice is defined in notice 162 as weighing anything over 1035g per litre* so you can probably imagine what our industrious cider maker does when adding water to their concentrate…yep, they add nine litres of water instead of six giving them ten whole litres of juice weighing 1035g/l (legally defined as 100% juice)

So now we’ve got a tank full of this “juice” but if fermented it would only give us a cider with 4.5% alcohol. That would technically be a 100% juice (from concentrate) cider, but would still be a touch too costly for our industrial cider maker to produce.

The solution is to add sugar to the “juice” to allow the yeast to raise the alcohol (Chaptalizing). Sugar is cheaper than juice and if you add 182g of sugar per litre of “juice” you’ll be able to produce a 100% juice (from concentrate) cider with an enormous 14% alcohol! Another benefit to the large scale producer of chaptalizing to this extent is storage space, 50’000 litres of 14% cider once diluted makes 140’000 litres of 5% cider. that means you can get away with just a third of the tank space required by a full juice producer.

Nobody sells 14% cider of course, because our Notice 162 states that cider cannot be stronger that 8.4%, so what is actually done is that our cider maker once again turns on the hose and adds water back to the “cider” to bring the alcohol down to say 5% alcohol (a typical abv for mass produced UK ciders). Diluting the “100% juice, 14% alcohol cider” down to 4.5% abv means they need to add approximately 64 litres of water to every 36 litres of their “100% juice, 14%abv cider”…

And there we have it, a 5% abv cider that legally conforms to UK legislation and will more than likely be sold as a premium / craft / quality cider depending on when they last redesigned their labels or bought a canning line.

The fact of it is that if you thought 35% apple juice was a little slim, then consider this final bit of maths. If we ignore the 1035g/l* definition and return the concentrate back to it’s original density then you’re actually looking at an astonishing 26% juice.

In light of this, who do you think sits around the table and decides what is and what isn’t cider, in other words who has the most influence on Notice 162, the cider maker using fresh juice, selling 100% juice cider or the cider maker using concentrate, selling 35% juice cider?

If you drink cider at all then you deserve better than that. Seek out the real stuff, I know it can be hard to spot when every cider on the shelf looks the same but honestly, read the label, the good cider makers don’t keep their ingredients or processes a secret, in many ways it’s the only tool they have to distinguish their cider from the fake stuff masquerading as cider on our shelves.

Cheers and happy cider hunting!

 

*1035g/l was reportedly set as the minimum weight (or density) of juice to reflect traditional cider makers using early season apples which sometimes have a much lower sugar content than the later season apples. This makes sense, it would be absurd to say that juice pressed from an apple in August wasn’t legally juice but the loophole that it’s created for the industrial producers can’t be ignored.

**These figures are based on direct personal experience within the industry